Ben Milam statue in Cameron, Milam County, Texas
Ben Milam (1788–1835), soldier, colonizer, and entrepreneur, was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, on October 20, 1788. He had little or no formal schooling but showed an interest in military affairs, enlisting in the Kentucky militia and fighting for several months in the War of 1812. When his period of enlistment was completed he returned to Frankfort. Restless, he went to Texas by 1818, trading with the Comanche Indians on the Colorado River. Here he met another Indian trader, David G. Burnet and the two became friends. In 1819, Milam met José Félix Trespalacios and James Long in New Orleans and learned about their plan to help the revolutionaries in Mexico and Texas gain independence from Spain. Milam joined up, commissioned a colonel. While he and Trespalacios sailed to Veracruz, Long marched on La Bahía but was eventually captured. In Veracruz, Trespalacios and Milam also met with disaster and imprisoned. Ultimately, Milam and his associates appealed their case to the new revolutionary government of Agustín Iturbide which, in turn, accepted and treated them with respect and generosity and ordered their release.
In 1822, a guard shot Long under circumstances that convinced Milam that the killing was plotted by Trespalacios. In retaliation, Milam and several friends planned to kill Trespalacios but the plot was discovered. Once again in prison, Milam was saved through the influence of Joel R. Poinsett, United States minister. Milam quickly left the country.
By the spring of 1824 Milam returned to Mexico encouraged by the passage of the Constitution of 1824 and made several important contacts. In Mexico City he met Arthur G. Wavell, an Englishman who had become a general in the new Mexican army. Trespalacios, now prominent in the new government as well, made overtures to Milam to renew their friendship, and Milam accepted. Granted Mexican citizenship and commissioned a colonel in the Mexican army, he became Wavell’s partner in a silver mine in Nuevo León in 1825–26. The two also obtained empresario grants in Texas. Wavell managed the mining in Mexic